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A Study of Common Grace

I feel that as Protestant Reformed young people we need to delve into the doctrine of God’s grace and the doctrine of total depravity. We must be aware of how it is distorted by “common grace”. To do this, I am going to quote considerably from our Reformed fathers.

Today, the Arminian view of common grace has saturated nearly every church and congregation. Who is not affected by it? Name the churches today who have not departed from the Biblical principles of God’s grace. Which synods have not adopted this heresy officially? Take notice of this! Think about it! Discuss it! Today’s church world is corrupted by these false, unbiblical teachings to the hurt of God’s people in them. This is very, very serious for us as God’s elect. It means that God’s people must struggle with sin and false teachings within the nominal church, to the point that they have an extremely difficult reality to face. Where is the pure gospel preached?

After the Reformation, God was pleased to spread once again the pure gospel throughout the world. The truth blossomed and was held in high esteem. John Calvin emphasized God’s sovereignty over man’s will, man’s complete dependency upon God for regeneration and saving grace. But apostasy is an ongoing activity which has since progressed nearly every­where again. The flower withers.

How then does this affect us as elect people of God? It should startle us into realizing that we must be discern­ing individuals. To have before our minds’ eyes the differences of doctrine and walk examined by God’s measure­ment – His Word.

Apostasy and heresy work slowly and at times almost hidden from immediate view. One hundred years ago many churches were basically Reformed in their view of man’s will and the sovereignty of God. Now we hear exclusively of the free offer of salvation and man’s ability to choose without regeneration by the Holy Spirit.

Hence, we find ourselves quite alone in this world – maintaining doctrines which not only are scoffed at, but are even declared unbiblical and cruel. In this connection, let’s study common grace and the dangers associa­ted with it. Also, let us observe and condemn teachings which profane God and glorify man. May we refute errors to magnify God’s name and live out of thankfulness to our Creator.

Jacob Arminius is the 16th century Dutch theologian who introduced com­mon grace and the free will of man to the Reformed Churches. Dr. Abraham Kuyper is the Dutch theologian ac­countable for developing the theory of common grace. Dr. Kuyper, who lived from 1837 to 1920, established himself as a giant of a scholar, theologian, and politician. But it was to the hurt of the Reformed Churches that he developed and propagated his world and life view of common grace.

Dr. A. Kuyper had two types of grace; “particular” grace and “com­mon” grace. Particular grace is a saving grace only for the elect. Common grace is a favor which God used to enlighten and uphold fallen man as a cultural being. Dr. Kuyper’s view, as taken from his book. Lectures on Calvinism delivered at Princeton University, held to “particular grace by which God, maintaining the life of the world, relaxes the curse which rests upon it. arrests its process of corrup­tion, and thus allows the untrampled development of our life in which to glorify Himself as Creator.”

Dr. Kuyper, in his lecture on Calvinism and Art, attributes his view of common grace to Calvin, and I quote, “Calvinism has taught us that all liberal arts are gifts which God imparts promiscuously to believers and unbelievers, yea, that, as history shows, these gifts have flourished even in a larger measure outside the holy circle.” . . . “But if, at the hand of experience and history, you become persuaded that the highest art-instincts are natural gifts, and hence belong to those excellent graces which, in spite of sin, by virtue of common grace, have continued to shine in human nature, it plainly follows that art can inspire both believers and unbelievers, and that God remains sovereign to impart it in His good pleasure, alike to heathen and to Christian nations.”

Calvin’s views concerning total depravity, as quoted from Calvin’s Institutes, pages 270 and 272:

“And, indeed, that common opinion which they have taken from Augustine pleases me: that the natural gifts were corrupted in man through sin, but that his supernatural gifts were stripped

from him. For by the latter clause they understand the light of faith as well as righteousness, which would be suffic­ient to attain heavenly life and eternal bliss. Therefore, withdrawing from the Kingdom of God, he is at the same time deprived of spiritual gifts, with which he had been furnished for the hope of eternal salvation. From this it follows that he is so banished from the Kingdom of God that all qualities belonging to the blessed life of the soul have been extinguished in him. until he recovers them through the grace of regeneration. Among these are faith, love of God, charity toward neighbor, zeal for holiness and for righteous­ness.”

“. . . Therefore, to perceive more clearly how far the mind can proceed in any matter according to the degree of its ability, we must here set forth a distinction. This then, is the distinc­tion: that there is one kind of understanding of earthly things; anoth­er of heavenly. I call “earthly things” those which do not pertain to God or His Kingdom, to true justice or to the blessedness of the future life; but which have their significance and relationship with regard to the present life and are, in a sense, confined within its bounds. I call “heavenly things” the pure knowledge of God, the nature of true righteousness, and the mysteries of the Heavenly Kingdom. The first class includes government, household management, all mechanical skills, and the liberal arts. In the second are the knowledge of God and of His will, and the rule by which we conform our lives to it.”

According to Rev. H. Hoeksema, in his book The Protestant Reformed Churches, Dr. A. Kuyper’s chief purpose for developing the theory of common grace was to explain that there was a positively good development of the human race even though man was in a fallen state and totally depraved. Dr. Kuyper developed a grace that all unregenerate men received an antidote to the poison of sin at the time of Adam’s fall in Paradise. Dr. Kuyper believed that man became totally depraved, but through God’s adminis­tering the antidote of common grace, God saved man and all mankind from terrifying chaos and an explosion, as it were, of barbaric savagery. He taught that Adam through sin lost not only the image of God, but also physical capacities and would have ended in being a brute, or a devil, without common grace. He defined the fall from God’s grace as a fundamental change of man’s substance. We quoted Rev. H. Hoeksema from his pamphlet The Christian and Culture, “that sin did not and could not change man ESSENTIALLY. It is absurd to say that except for the influence of “common grace’’ man would have changed into a devil. Sin is ethical moral in nature and could not change the essence of man.’’ That is that man is still very human in all his being and abilities. He is not changed physically into an animal. He has the same human characteristics, thinking, willing, rational being. What has changed then? Rev. Hoeksema writes in his Reformed Dogmatics, pg. 209, “Man was originally created so he actually possessed the image of God. These virtues are usually distinguished as true knowledge of God, righteous­ness, and holiness, and all three are often expressed in the one term, man’s original righteousness.”

This, man has lost! He is now absolutely corrupt, wills only sin, and apart from conversion, is a slave to it.

What does man in the fallen state retain? Let’s quote The Canons, Article 4 of the 3rd and 4th Heads of Doctrine: “There remain, however, in man since the fall, the glimmerings of natural light, whereby he retains some know­ledge of God, of natural things, and of the differences between good and evil, and discovers some regard for virtue, good order in society, and for maintain­ing an orderly external deportment. But so far is the light of nature from being sufficient to bring him to a saving knowledge of God, and to true conversion, that he is incapable of using it aright even in things natural and civil. Nay, further, this light, such as it is, man in various ways renders wholly polluted, and holds it in unrighteousness, by doing which he becomes inexcusable before God.”

Now we have man as a rational, moral creature. Able to live and work on this earth. To be busy with commerce, industry, and the arts. Let’s quote from the Reformed Dogmatics, pg. 271; “With these small remnants he can do no good. On the contrary, they belong to the capital which he possesses in order to be able to sin. If he did not possess these small rem­nants, if it were true that in this fall he lost everything that belonged to his moral nature, if he lost his intellect and will themselves, he could not be a sinner and could never be held accountable for the deed of sin! Through these small remnants of natural light he retained some know­ledge of God.’’   . .“He knows that God is; he knows also somewhat who He is; he is conscious of the fact that this God, as He is, must be thanked and glorified.”

It is absolutely essential for us to remember that man is totally depraved by nature. Dead to all things spiritual instilling within him a glimmering of and godly. Common grace bridges the chasm between the unregenerate man and the hearing of the gospel by God’s grace.

To be continued.